If The 400 Blows (1959) constituted the songs of innocence for Antoine Doinel, then Stolen Kisses (1968) and Bed & Board (1970) make up his songs of experience. Made in relatively quick succession almost a decade after director François Truffaut’s iconic debut, they found Jean-Pierre Leaud’s hero mired in the negotiations of adulthood. The key to understanding Doinel’s transitions is Antoine & Colette (1962), a modest short film made by Truffaut as a part of Pierre Roustang’s omnibus project, Love at Twenty (with Shintaro Ishihara and Marcel Ophüls). A portrait of teenage Antoine’s pursuit of beauty Colette, the semi-autobiographical work introduces us to the primary drives of his adult life.
We see an impulsive man-child, overcome with infatuation and unknowingly initiating seismic changes in his life as a result. The love inevitably goes unrequited, illustrating Truffaut’s central philosophy of Doinel’s life; here is a man driven to obsession by fleeting passions, leaving him flotsam in the twin currents of fate and time. Stolen Kisses gives us Antoine the eternal optimist, dishonourably discharged from the army and pursuing a tenuous life back in Paris. Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) is the subject of his affections, albeit tentatively. Love for Antoine is often a perverse form of anchorage; something to keep his wired, restless heart at bay. Christine pushes Antoine into an ill-fated job as an evening receptionist at a hotel, hoping it will be the catalyst he needs to embrace his responsibilities.
Stolen Kisses essentially charts a doomed couple’s attempt to settle in a shifting culture. In a delightfully absurd comedy of manners, Antoine falls from one unlikely job to the next, floundering in the face of the simplest human tasks. His struggle is comical, but we’re always onside. We recognise his emotional potential; we despair at his attempts to slip quietly into a world that doesn’t understand him. Doinel is a literary figure in a real world; Truffaut’s Candide awash in contemporary Paris. By Bed & Board, Antoine and Christine are married, and the underlying tensions of Stolen Kisses are exorcised in typical Truffaut fashion. It centres on Antoine’s infatuation with a young Japanese woman. He’s been in this situation before (with Delphine Seyrig’s exotic older woman in Stolen Kisses) but, by Bed & Board, the circumstances have changed; he and Christine are expecting a child.
If Stolen Kisses constituted an irresponsibly adolescent scramble for adulthood, then Bed & Board represents the consequences. There are clearly extraneous societal factors at play, but they remain in the background; the domestic pressures have been largely wrought by Antoine and his compulsiveness. Contemporary convention dictates family as a priority, but Antoine knows himself. He wages constant war with his impulses. In the first three films of the cycle, we enjoyed watching him drift but, in Bed & Board, we will him to shape up while empathising with his predicament.